A group linked to populist icon and former chief strategist to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, has won back control of an Italian monastery, only to now face criminal prosecution over its application for the lease on the property.
– Administrative court rules in favour of Dignatitus Humanae Institute
Three administrative judges ruled May 26 that the Dignatitis Humanae Institute (DHI) can keep for the moment the 19-year lease it was granted two years ago on the Certosa di Trisulti, a sprawling Carthusian monastery built 800 years ago 75km south-east of Rome.
That lease was awarded as part of a public program to involve private groups in the management of abandoned cultural sites in Italy.
The administrative court’s decision Tuesday came after the Italian Ministry of Culture annulled in October last year the DHI’s lease on the charterhouse, alleging illegalities and irregularities in the Institute’s application.
The DHI subsequently won two appeals in December and in February this year against the Ministry’s attempts to evict it.
– Prosecution over “false and mendacious” irregularities in lease application
In their ruling Tuesday, the judges said that the Ministry had failed to act within the permitted timeframe for the annulment of public contracts.
The Ministry had argued that the time limit should not apply in the case of the DHI and the Certosa di Trisulti, because the Institute made “false and mendacious” claims in its application for the lease over the property.
However, the administrative court ruled that the Ministry had failed to provide evidence for that assertion, and added that the claim must be proven in a criminal court.
Within 48 hours of the new administrative sentence ruling being handed down, then, prosecutors from the Attorney General’s office in Rome gave notice to DHI founder and director Benjamin Harnwell that he was facing criminal charges over the alleged irregularities in the DHI application for the monastery.
Harnwell denies any wrongdoing, and the Ministry has also confirmed that it will appeal the latest ruling.
– “Academy for the Judeo-Christian West” to begin online
The DHI’s plans to create in Trisulti an “academy for the Judeo-Christian West”, or a “gladiator school” for populists, and to form them in traditionalist Catholic thought on politics, economics, society and theology have attracted the ire of both locals and democrats the world over.
Another motive of anger has been the Institute’s links with far-right, xenophobic politicians such as former Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, as well as with notorious leader of the conservative resistance to Pope Francis, Cardinal Raymond Burke.
But in a statement after the administrative court ruling but before the announcement of criminal charges, DHI director Harnwell said he was “very satisfied” with the latest turn of events regarding the monastery.
Explaining that he now hoped to carry out his original restoration plans for the charterhouse, Harnwell added that the DHI would open registrations June 1 “for the long-awaited Academy for the Judeo-Christian West… which – for now – will be online distance learning, managed and carried out directly from the United States”.
The DHI director didn’t reveal for the moment whether or when he was contemplating a return of the academy to Trisulti, a move that will depend on him winning the new court case.
For his part, Bannon said in a press release also after the ruling but before the announcement of the prosecution that “we stood by the monastery, the community and Italy during this pandemic when it would have been easy to walk away”.
“We now launch the programme of learning and training that will make the world more prosperous, more secure and more healthy for everyone”, Bannon added.